Stopchargingmaria was just biding her time.
Trained by Todd Pletcher for owner Mike Repole, the 3-year-old Tale of the Cat filly ran just behind a pace-setting duo until the far turn of the 1 1⁄8-mile Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks before taking an outside track around them and watching them fade on her way to another win at Saratoga Race Course on Sunday.
“We wanted to come out and get some position, and hopefully, we could track the speed from the outside,” Pletcher said. “It worked out that she was able to put Javier [Castellano] in all the spots he wanted.”
She also had been biding her time while waiting for this race. Her last start was in the Grade II Black Eyed Susan on May 16. She was aiming at the Mother Goose on June 28, but passed it up when division-leading Untapable entered. The wait paid off with Stopchargingmaria turning in good works at what must be one of her favorite tracks. She is 2-1-0 from three starts here, including a maiden win in her debut on July 19, 2013.
“I told Mike, this filly has never trained better than she has here in the last month,” Pletcher said. “She seems to really like Saratoga. She’s been training much more powerfully than she did this winter, so we expected a big effort from her.”
Pletcher had been hitting at 21 percent in his previous 155 starts after layoffs of two to six months. Stopchargingmaria won’t wait that long before her next start, which is likely the Grade I Alabama on Aug. 16, in which she would stretch out to 1 1⁄4 miles.
At 1 1⁄8, she is 3-for-3, including wins in the Black Eyed Susan at Pimlico and the Grade II Demoiselle at Aqueduct last November.
Now, she’s done it against Grade I company, and in convincing enough fashion to suggest she can handle the extra furlong.
It was Pletcher’s sixth time winning the CCA Oaks, which he also captured in 2001, 2004, 2007, 2010 and 2013. He completed the CCA Oaks-Alabama double last year with Princess of Sylmar, owned by Schenectady native Ed Stanco, Pletcher’s first time winning the Alabama.
Stopchargingmaria followed the lead pair of Taketheodds and Miss Besilu through consistent fractions of 24.03, 48.08 and 1:12.11, then found running room outside in the final turn. Unbridled Forever followed her on her move through the turn, but could not keep pace through the stretch run.
Once Stopchargingmaria hit the straightaway, she drifted out a little for the final furlong, but still pulled away to a five-length victory over Unbridled Forever. Miss Besilu was another four lengths back in third.
Entering the stretch, Castellano knew his filly had a lot of late kick available.
“Turning for home, I was thinking the race was over,” he said. “At the top of the stretch, she took off. Now, the way she has matured, she was phenomenal today.”
Regardless of how mature she may have felt to Castellano, Pletcher admitted she still can get a little distracted coming around the far turn and approaching the grandstands.
“She did the same thing she did when she broke her maiden here,” Pletcher said. “She started looking at the signs down there when she didn’t have any one in front of her. She’s a little bit green, still. She’s always done that. In fact, the first time she ran, Johnny [Velazquez] rode her and I told him, ‘Just be careful, because she’ll come to those signs and take a peek at them.’ ”
Stopchargingmaria returned $4.40, $2.60 and $2.10 in the win. Unbridled Forever paid $2.90 and $2.20, and Miss Besilu paid $2.50 to show.
America finished fourth, Taketheodds slipped to fifth, and Courageous Julie — who ran without hind shoes after rearing up on the horse path from the paddock to the track — was last while running for purse money only.
Unbridled Forever trainer Dallas Stewart wasn’t too disappointed with the way his filly ran and may enter her in the Alabama, as well.
“She came home good,” Stewart said. “She ran hard, you know? We just got outrun. I can’t make any excuses.”